- Rapid manufacturing on-demand could put warehouses, moulds into the past
Northwestern University researchers have developed world’s highest-throughput 3D printer operating on a technology named as HARP Technology (High-Area Rapid Printing). The huge 13-feet tall 3D printer enables printing at record-breaking speeds not possible on existing systems.
HARP (High-Area Rapid Printing) Technology
Over the last 3 decades, most of the advancement in 3D printing has been aimed at pushing the limits of the legacy technology. The pursuit to print larger parts at faster speeds have been at the cost of the quality (resolution). This has limited the mass production capabilities of the technology.
The researchers of this new technology believe that this compromise is totally unnecessary, and the technology can be enabled to compete with both the resolution and throughput of traditional manufacturing techniques.
HARP technology is a modified version of the world’s first 3D printing technology, Stereolithography. The new technology is patent-pending and operates in a similar fashion where a liquid plastic material is cured into hard objects in a layer-by-layer process with the help of UV light.
The prototype of the HARP technology created by the researchers stands at an impressive 13-feet height with a huge print bed measuring 2.5 square-foot. Researchers say that it is so fast that it can print an object the size of an adult human in just a couple of hours. This means it can print single, large parts or many different small parts at once.
Speaking about the HARP technology, Northwestern’s Chad A. Mirkin, who led the product’s development said, “3D printing is conceptually powerful but has been limited practically. If we could print fast without limitations on materials and size, we could revolutionize manufacturing. HARP is poised to do that.”
Mirkin believes that HARP technology will be commercially made available in the next 18 months.
Northwestern University researchers were able to address and solve a critical challenge restricting inventors to develop fast 3D printing systems. This solution enabled the researchers to develop HARP technology
The major challenge for existing 3D printers to develop fast and large-scale printers is the amount of heat generated during the printing process. As the printing speeds increase the heat generation increases which is sometimes in excess of 180 degree Celsius. This not only affects the surface temperatures but also deforms the printed part. And so the existing 3D printers have a limited build volume.
Northwestern University researchers addressed this challenge and managed to bypass this problem completely with the use of non-stick liquid that behaves like liquid Teflon.
The new process is efficient in removing heat from the system. HARP projects light through a window to solidify resin on top of a vertically moving plate. The liquid Teflon flows over the window to remove heat and then circulates it through a cooling unit.
Mirkin explained, “Our technology generates heat just like the others,” Mirkin said. “But we have an interface that removes the heat. The interface is also non-stick, which keeps the resin from adhering to the printer itself. This increases the printer’s speed by a hundredfold because the parts do not have to be repeatedly cleaved from the bottom of the print-vat.”
Mass Production – A Reality now?
Existing manufacturing methods involve a big supply chain cycle which not only make them sow but are difficult to manage, monitor and costly to maintain.
While 3D printing is giving manufacturer some options on eliminating tooling needs in small batch production, but it is still not feasible for a lot of companies to completely transition from prototyping to manufacturing.
The major challenge is the size and speed of the 3D printers. HARP technology can eliminate all these problems. It is the first printer that can handle large batches and large parts in addition to small parts.
According to Mirkin, “When you can print fast and large, it can really change the way we think about manufacturing. With HARP, you can build anything you want without moulds and without a warehouse full of parts. You can print anything you can imagine on-demand.”
Speaking about the huge size of the printer, David Walker, co-author of the research paper said, “Obviously there are many types of 3D printers out there — you see printers making buildings, bridges and car bodies, and conversely you see printers that can make small parts at very high resolutions. We’re excited because this is the largest and highest throughput printer in its class.”
He continued, “Printers on the scale of HARP often produce parts that must be sanded or machined down to their final geometry. This adds a large labour cost to the production process. HARP is in a class of 3D printers that uses high-resolution light-patterning to achieve ready-to-use parts without extensive post-processing. The result is a commercially viable route to the manufacturing of consumer goods.”
The research work was published on 18th October 2019 in the journal Science. Mirkin is the George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and director of the International Institute of Nanotechnology. David Walker and James Hedrick, both researchers in Mirkin’s laboratory, co-authored the paper.
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